Mark Lomax Trio brings expansive jazz to the Foundry Theater
- Published: November 30, 2023
The Mark Lomax Trio will headline the Foundry Theater at Antioch College Saturday, Dec. 2, as the theater continues its inaugural season of programming.
The jazz-forward trio features Edwin Bayard on tenor saxophone and Dean Hulett on bass, and is led by drummer Mark Lomax II.
A lifelong Columbus resident, Lomax, who holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree, is not only a composer and artist, but also an educator and philanthropist. When not composing or performing, he splits his time between teaching African American music history at The Ohio State University and music composition at Wittenberg University, and serving as the director of arts and generational grantmaking for the nonprofit Columbus Foundation.
In speaking with the News this week, Lomax said he’s been a drummer since roughly infancy — according to his parents, he said, he would gently tap out rhythms on his mother’s face while she was feeding him. When he was 2, his parents took him to be assessed by a music teacher in a Columbus school.
“My mother says there was a 10-year-old taking a lesson, and she had to hold me because I was trying to get to the drum,” Lomax said. “As soon as the lesson was over, she said I got out of her grip, I ran to the drums and I played the rhythm that the 10-year-old was playing.”
Since first picking up drumsticks at the age of 2, Lomax’s body of musical work has been expansive — his website discography lists three dozen solo or collaborative albums. Lomax’s oeuvre incorporates a range of stylistic impressions and influences: jazz, gospel, symphonic tones, blues and fusions of all of the above.
This range of sound is perhaps most apparent in Lomax’s 2019 work, “400: An Afrikan Epic,” a 12-album cycle that explores the history of Black Americans. The cycle’s title refers to the year of its release — 400 years after the 1619 arrival of the first captive Africans to colonial Virginia.
The 12-album cycle is divided into three sections of four albums each: “Alkebulan: The Beginning of Us,” “Ma’afa: Great Tragedy,” and “Afro-Futurism: The Return to Uhuru.”
Lomax said he conceived of “400” in 2016, and originally envisioned it as a three-movement symphony. But the scope of the work, he said, kept expanding.
“No sane person sits down and says, ‘I’m going to record and release 12 albums,’” he said with a laugh. “But in wanting to tell the story — in abstraction, of course — I wanted to be as thorough as possible, even from that [abstract] lens.”
He added: “As Stokely Carmichael — Kwame Ture — said, if you’re going to deal with African American history, you cannot start with the trauma of enslavement.”
For that reason, “400” begins with four albums dedicated to pre-colonial Africa, envisioning a time, Lomax said, when those who would be enslaved on the African continent were “last healthy, happy and whole.” The next four albums center on the ma’afa — a Kiswahili word for “great tragedy” often used to describe the transatlantic slave trade — and its effects from 1619 to 2019.
The final four albums in the cycle aim to project an optimistic future in which, Lomax said, “everyone has healed from this trauma.”
“I don’t mean just descendants of enslaved Africans,” Lomax added. “The system of enslavement, which is a global phenomenon even to this day, harms everyone. We have to have the human family find ways to heal as a collective.”
Story is integral to much of Lomax’s work — an artistic practice through which he communes with West African cultural practices. Lomax said his work as both a composer and a drummer draws from the West African tradition of the jali, also known by the French term “griot” — living archives of oral history and tradition.
“They use music, dance and storytelling to remind the members of their community who they are … celebrating the heroes, sheroes and theyroes of the community,” Lomax said. “As a drummer, I have to tell stories, because that’s what the drums do in African context.”
Earlier this year, the Mark Lomax Trio delved into stories again as they presented “The Resurrection Project,” a live performance piece that reimagined their 2014 album “Isis and Osiris.” The work presented the ancient resurrection story of the Egyptian gods Isis and Osiris — known by the names Ausar and Auset in the indigenous African Kemetic tradition — during the holy season in which Christian tradition celebrates Easter, the resurrection of Jesus.
Lomax said his upbringing was steeped in a fusion of spiritual traditions by his father, the Rev. Mark A. Lomax, who is pastor of First Afrikan Presbyterian Church near Atlanta, Georgia, and who wrote the liner notes for “Isis and Osiris.” His father’s years of theological study, Lomax said, have been focused on “understanding the tradition and development of spiritual thought from Kemet until today.”
“He continues to work within the Christian tradition, because his research has shown him that [Christianity] is indeed an African tradition,” Lomax said. “Most people don’t see it that way, so I’ve always been that guy that’s kind of in the middle.”
And spirituality plays a part in all of Lomax’s music, he said. Citing jazz musicians John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, McCoy Tyner and Ohio’s own Albert Ayler, he said there’s a “consistent thread of improvising musicians in Black art music being connected to the Black church.”
“There’s no sacred/secular dichotomy in traditional African thought — and there really isn’t in African American thought, either,” he said.
At the time of his News interview, Lomax said he and the other Trio members hadn’t yet landed on a complete program for their upcoming show at the Foundry; that afternoon, he was putting the finishing touches on an orchestral piece he had been commissioned to compose, after which he and the Trio planned to put together their set list. He said, however, that the Trio would likely play a “hodgepodge,” including selections from their recently released tribute to Charles Mingus, as well as some Thelonius Monk tunes, some originals and improvisational pieces.
“There’s a lot obviously going on in the world, so we want to improvise on the theme of world peace,” he said. “Given the holiday season, I think that’s more than appropriate.”
The Mark Lomax Trio will perform at the Foundry Saturday, Dec. 2, beginning at 7 p.m. Tickets are $30 for general admission, and $5 for students. For more information, go to bit.ly/FoundryLomaxTrio.